Paraphrasing has two key elements:
When you work on your paper and are very tired, there is a great temptation to change only 1 or 2 words and to consider that a paraphrase. If you do this, you are really plagiarizing because even the sentence structure is considered the author's. The whole paper needs to be written in your voice, unless the field of study you are in requires many direct quotes.
Here is an example of a quote that is not exactly the greatest thing to put in your essay because there are phrases that would not read well if quoted exactly. It is by psychologist Otto Rank, who is writing about the ability that great artists have to put themselves into their work and to overcome the many struggles they face.
“The artist, however, here also, in spite of many difficulties and struggles, finds a constructive, a middle way: he avoids the complete loss of himself in life, not by remaining in a negative attitude, but by living himself out entirely in creative work. This fact is so obvious that, when we intuitively admire some great work of art, we say the whole artist is in it and expresses himself in it.”
Now let us see this quote paraphrased so that Rank is given credit and the ideas are handled as you wish to handle them.
Otto Rank, in his book Art and Artist (1932), believed that the chief distinction of great artists was their ability not to lose themselves in everyday life, but rather to live their lives and to express themselves fully in their artwork (p. 373). They did not get overwhelmed either by the details of life or of their art.
Paraphrasing is required in college writing because it is so much shorter than quoting and allows you control over the ideas or content. To paraphrase well, consider your focus or thesis, and let that guide you in shaping the sentence.